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Nov 16, 2016

Taking Stock of Where We Are

It it that time of year when I look back on the past year and make plans for the next.  The first two years of the Center for Social Enterprise Development has focused on getting more social enterprises started.  To that end we focused our outreach on encouraging nonprofits to consider social enterprise, our training on taking entrepreneurs from concept to launch, and our access to capital efforts on making angel investors more aware of the legitimacy of social enterprises as serious businesses.

We are currently accepting applications for nonprofits to receive a $15,000 grant to participate in the 2017 SE Catalyst 8-month program to develop a new earned revenue business from concept to launch.  Applications are due November 23.  Encourage the nonprofits you know to apply now and take a bold step toward sustaining their mission.  Learn more about the program and apply here.  

We now have a good cadre of social enterprises: our online directory currently lists 97 in Central Ohio.  What we don’t have is enough training focused on the needs of enterprises that are already in business and enough capital at the concept, seed, and growth stages to help social enterprises advance to sustainability.

Our ultimate objective is to have a vibrant social entrepreneurial start-up ecosystem.  Here are the five necessary ingredients and where I think Central Ohio currently is.

1. Flexible and skilled labor  — Central Ohio is blessed with a large pool of younger generation individuals with the passion to work for companies that are about more than money.  Our challenge is to connect this energy with the experience of the older generations.  An effective system to match coach-mentors with social entrepreneurs is our challenge.

2.  Density of entrepreneurial activity and support — while we have come a long way to reach 97 social enterprises from the handful a few years ago, we are just at a tipping point of having enough to catch the public’s attention.  As for support, we have a number of local efforts but they are primarily focused on launching start-ups, not yet on sustaining them.  Our challenge is to build a support network for social entrepreneurs that is comparable to the outstanding network our community has built around high tech entrepreneurs.

3. A culture of highlighting social entrepreneurs as role models — we are definitely not there yet.  Outside of the impressive achievements of Joe DeLoss at Hot Chicken Takeover, most of our social entrepreneurs are invisible to the general public.  We are chipping away with our monthly interview of a social entrepreneur in Metropreneur (reposted on our blog) and the annual ASPIRE awards, but these are not yet mainstream.  Nonetheless, the mainstream media have increased their coverage of local social enterprises as we summarize in our annual report on the State of Social Enterprise in Central Ohio.

4. Sufficient investment capital — entrepreneurs always complain of a shortage of capital, but in social enterprise that is indeed true for our community.  Several new investors have entered the market in the past year and, hopefully, over the next year we will see more announcements  of investments in this sector.  I am particularly excited that last week our CINCO Advisory board authorized drafting of legal documents to formally launch the CINCO Fund in 2017 to invest in local social enterprises.

5. Friendly regulations — the recent move to allow equity crowdfunding is a positive development to open start-up investing to the enthusiasm of smaller investors.  Substantial growth is traditionally powered by equity investment and going public.  The legal protections of For Benefit Corporations would be a positive step for Ohio social enterprises.  Not there yet. House Bill 545 has just gone to committee in the Ohio Legislature, but this late in the session, it will need to find a new life after January 1.

So, while we have come a long way, we still have a long way to go.  The Center for Social Enterprise Development is the only organization in Central Ohio exclusively devoted to supporting all components of the social enterprise ecosystem.  We welcome your help in time, talent, and treasure.


Allen Proctor, President & CEO

Center for Social Enterprise Development